Saturday, April 30, 2005

If someone calls you a tyrant, call him a...philistine?

N.Korea Says Bush Comments Show He Is a Philistine
Pyongyang branded President Bush a philistine and a cowboy on Saturday after he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-il a tyrant earlier this week.

The North's official KCNA news agency reported a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Bush had slandered Kim in Thursday's comments, in which he also called the country's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, a "dangerous person."

"He (Bush) is a half-baked man in terms of morality and a philistine whom we can never deal with," KCNA cited the spokesman as saying.
That's the best they could come up with? "You're a tyrant, Kim." "Oh yeah? Well you're a, you're a...boorish barbarian!"

Do North Korea's leaders, does Kim himself really believe their rhetoric? The U.S. is the one constantly working to bring North Korea back to negotiations. Clinton, in all his naivete, thought he had succeeded. But time and time again, it's the U.S. who has to drag North Korea to the table, not the other way around.

I'm reminded of a joke I heard a few years ago.

So all the countries of the world are sitting in a bar. The US and the EU are at the bar, drinking and telling jokes. Poland is down at the end going, "Hey man, you know we got jokes about you guys in my country" and drinking cheap booze. All of a sudden, Iraq sits down at the bar and orders a Scotch and water.

The US looks over and sees that Iraq has a sawn-off shotgun stuffed under its coat. Now I don't know what you've been led to believe by TV and movies, but hiding a sawn-off under your coat without it being somewhat noticeable is rather hard. So the US jumps up and yells, "What the smurf, man, you packin'? You up in NATO's hood, packing a sawn-off!"

And Iraq replies, "I'm not packin'. I don't have to put up with this crap, and if you don't shut up, I'll fill yer ass full of buck shot so fast it'll make your head spin!"

So then America turns to the European end and says, "Yo, check this smurf out."

Germany steps away. "Oh, no. Last time I got in a fight I got my ass handed to me."

France backs up. "Yeah man, me too. Plus, this guy owes me money."

But England says, "What the smurf, man. I got your back, US."

Now UN, the bartender, sees everything and walks over. "Hey fellas, I don't want any trouble here. Iraq, just let me look under your coat and see what's going on. If you don't have anything to hide, it's all cool."

"You can look under the right side of my coat, but not the left side," says Iraq.

Then all of a sudden, North Korea jumps up on a table, cocaine smeared across its face, screaming, "DON'T [bleep] WITH NORTH KOREA MAN!!!!! YOU [bleep] BETTER NOT SMURF WITH ME OR I'LL RAIN ATOMIC DEATH DOWN ON ALL YOUR GOAT-MOLESTING ASSES!!!!!!!!!"

And Japan, who's been trying to pick up this girl by the pool tables, looks up and says, "What was that about atomic death?"


Friday, April 29, 2005

Peace in our time?

Taiwan KMT, China End Civil War Hostilities
Taiwan opposition leader Lien Chan and Chinese President Hu Jintao closed the book on decades of hostility on Friday with a simple handshake in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

The civil war enemies agreed in a two-hour meeting that they described as frank and friendly to work to end enmity between the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party and avoid military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

"The two parties will work together to facilitate the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible ... and facilitate the ending of a hostile state to achieve a basis for peace," Lien's spokesman told a news conference.

But that will depend also on Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose independence stance has heightened tension with a mainland China, which views Taiwan as its own and is bent on bringing the self-governed island back under its rule.
Civil war between whom? This was merely Taiwan's minority party making "peace" with the mainland, not the ruling party, and certainly not with the majority of Taiwan's people. Beijing has never backed off its view that Taiwan is a "rogue province," and that mainland China has the right to take it back, even by military force. To call it "civil war" includes the arrogant presumption that Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China, that it's not a free and sovereign nation. And the article admits an ulterior motive for the trip:
But Lien's trip, seen as a divide-and-conquer gambit by China to isolate the DPP, has come under fire at home.

"We are disappointed that he went to an enemy country and did not express the majority view of Taiwan people, which is that Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country," the DPP's legislative whip, Chen Chin-jun, told a news conference.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. In return for its "peace" overtures, I expect Beijing will start backing the KMT in future elections (don't be surprised if they engage in covert funding). Then if the KMT returns to power, will they reciprocate by selling out their country? By "country" I don't mean the PRC -- I mean a free and independent Taiwan.

It's the most important issue, of course, to the Taiwanese: do they want leaders who believe in sovereignty and freedom, or leaders who believe in peace "at the price of chains and slavery?" The KMT has just displayed their full hand. They're willing to bargain.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It's a shame these two will die more peacefully than their victims

Samantha Runnion Slay Suspect Convicted
A jury convicted a factory worker Thursday of kidnapping and murdering 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, an Orange County girl whose 2002 death prompted widespread heartbreak, outrage and stronger efforts to rescue abducted children.

After deliberating for less than nine hours over two days, jurors convicted Alejandro Avila, 30, of kidnapping, murder and sexual assault. In the penalty phase, set to begin Wednesday, the jury will decide whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, cried silently in the front row of the courtroom as verdicts were read. She hugged prosecutor David Brent as the jury left.
Justice is served, at least most of it. Now all we need is the death sentence, as this bastard deserves. Contrary to what his defense lawyer claimed, the case was hardly circumstantial:

A police sketch of Samantha's abductor, based on a description from an 8-year-old friend of hers, resembles Avila. Prosecutors said cell phone and bank records indicate Avila had been in the area where Samantha was abducted, DNA matching his genetic profile was found under her fingernails, and sneaker and tire prints found near the girl's body also matched with the defendant.

Meanwhile, justice has been fully served for a crime committed thousands of miles away:

Jury Returns Death Sentence in GI Killings
A military jury sentenced a soldier to death Thursday for a grenade and rifle attack on his own comrades during the opening days of the Iraq invasion, a barrage that killed two officers and that prosecutors said was driven by religious extremism.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who gave a brief, barely audible apology hours earlier, stood at attention between his lawyers as the verdict was delivered. He showed no emotion.

He could have been sentenced to life in prison with or without parole for the early morning March 2003 attack, which also wounded 14 fellow members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait.

The 15-person military jury, which last week took just two and a half hours to convict Akbar of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder, deliberated for about seven hours in the sentencing phase. After jurors reached a verdict, they voted on whether to reconsider the decision after one juror asked that they do so.

The sentence will be automatically appealed. If Akbar is executed, it would be by lethal injection....

If given a death sentence, Akbar would join five others on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The last U.S. military execution was in 1961.
He's getting off easily, and I wonder why we have military personnel convicted of capital crimes, sentenced to death, but apparently not being executed?

Meanwhile, Akbar's lawyer asks for mercy:
Defense attorney Maj. David Coombs told jurors that a sentence of life without parole would allow Akbar to be treated for mental illness and possibly rehabilitated.

"Death is an absolute punishment, a punishment of last resort," Coombs said.
How about showing Akbar the same mercy that he showed to his victims? Or was Akbar simply acting as ambassador to the "religion of peace"?

We don't want him treated for mental illness. We don't want him rehabilitated. We want him executed. Is that too much to ask?

What IS going on?

Wiretaps in U.S. Jump 19 Percent in 2004
The number of court-authorized wiretaps jumped 19 percent last year as investigators pursued drug and other cases against increasingly tech-savvy suspects. Every surveillance request made by authorities was granted.

Federal and state judges approved 1,710 applications for wiretaps of wire, oral or electronic communications last year, and four states — New York, California, New Jersey and Florida — accounted for three of every four surveillance orders, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That agency is required to collect the figures and report them to Congress.

The numbers, released Thursday, do not include court orders for terror-related investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, which reached a record 1,754 warrants last year, according to the Justice Department. [emphasis added]
So this increase has nothing to do with terror investigations. And what are these "other cases"?

If the 19% increase is primarily for drug investigations, why weren't we already doing them? Haven't we already had a full-scale "War on Drugs" since the 1980s?

"How about getting a job?"

I meant to blog about this a couple of nights ago. Walking from Grand Central Terminal to the Ford Foundation this past Monday, I was accosted by a street thug. Panhandlers are nothing new to me, but this one was more aggressive than usual.

I had been walking east along 43rd Street, and just before Third Avenue I encountered a bunch of young black males who were just loafing around. Street thugs, basically. This particular one started walking along with me and asked me how I was doing. Reflexively I replied, "I'm fine." Then he said something about, "You look like you're doing fine!" and how I'm a "big guy."

Obviously this hooligan wasn't walking along just to compliment me. Sure enough, he started bugging me for a couple of dollars so he could "get a slice" (of pizza). He didn't appear homeless nor hungry. He was in a clean T-shirt and jeans and seemed quite capable of hard work. At one point he put his hand on my shoulder, drawing it back after a second or two, saying, "Whoa, you ARE a big guy!" Finally he stopped following me after I said, "I need to eat too" and crossed the street. I wanted to say, "How about getting a job?" but didn't feel like expending the energy for the inevitable argument.

I was ready to knock his teeth out when I felt his hand on my shoulder. Perhaps he sensed it, and that's why he pulled his hand back. Part of me at that moment wished he had tried something so that I could quote Daffy Duck: "Listen, mac. You've got 32 teeth, would you like to try for 16?" Reflecting on it later, I realized he might have wanted that. His fellow punks could have come running to his "rescue" with a good reason to beat me up, during which I'd "lose" my wallet and other valuables.

Maybe I should have spoken only in Spanish. My vocabulary isn't what it used to be, though I can effect a general South American accent. However, he might have decided to grab my wallet and run, figuring that if I don't speak English, he can be long gone by the time I find a policeman who understands me.

It was a good thing that I was carrying my cell phone in a front pocket, not on a belt clip. Wearing them on belt clips is definitely not a good idea while in the city, not with all the punks and pickpockets about. This one would have certainly tried to snatch it and run, I believe.

On Tuesday, I saw a similar group of ruffians loitering around the same spot, clearly up to no good. None bothered me that time, though, but later that night I encountered another panhandler. As I opened a door to enter Grand Central, a young black woman on the sidewalk asked, "Can you help me with something to eat?" It's a standard line. I looked at her briefly when she spoke to me. She appeared to be cleanly dressed, and again capable of work, so without a word, I turned away and walked inside.

I suppose some like that "nicholas" would consider me uncharitable, but I take great care in to whom I give charity. That's the difference between me and government.

The long arm of big government

Bill Would Put Serial Numbers on Bullets
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A state Senate committee approved a proposal Tuesday to put a serial number on every handgun bullet made or sold in California.

The measure cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-2 vote over opposition from manufacturers, firearms dealers and sport shooters.

The technology exists to laser-cut bullets with a number that police could use to trace who purchased bullets used in crimes, said Democratic sponsor Sen. Joseph Dunn.

Purchasers would pay up to a half a cent per bullet to fund record-keeping by the state Department of Justice. Vendors would pay up to $50 a year.
Do these liberal anti-gun nuts truly think this will deter criminals? Even PBS' Frontline acknowledged that criminals turn to "dirty dealers" more than law-abiding dealers. These dealers already violate laws requiring waiting periods and background checks, so why would they have any compunction in selling "illegal" unmarked bullets? They wouldn't. They'll sell unmarked bullets manufactured out of state, or even from Mexico.

Perhaps the mountain will come to Mohammed: underground dealers will come to California to sell unmarked bullets, knowing there will be a flourishing black market. Or, like some already do, criminals will simply steal bullets as part of burglaries, possibly leaving law-abiding citizens as potential suspects in future shootings.

Someone said, if guns kill people, then spoons made Rosie O'Donnell fat. I add that you can take away the spoons, but there's always another way. Meanwhile, it's the law-abiding citizen who, faced with long response times by the police, finds it more inconvenient and more expensive to defend himself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More Star Trek economics

Quincy had a good reply to my previous post "Star Trek Economics". I was going to add this as a comment, but with the length I thought I'd add it as a post in itself.

Labor itself is a commodity like everything else. As Austrian economists argue, the price system allocates resources to where they are needed most. And as I noted, Mises in particular said that without a price system, rational economic decisions are impossible to make. Do you need more doctors than teachers, or more physicists than chemists? With no salaries (just another form of prices), there's nothing to direct people toward careers with a labor shortage. Just like the Federation wouldn't really know the optimal number of Galaxy Class starships versus science vessels, its various planetary societies wouldn't really have a mechanism to determine the right proportion of architects, artisans, scientists and Starfleet personnel. Not everybody works for Starfleet, like Vash, who's basically an antiquities privateer. Her goal of profit was part of why that Ferengi found her so attractive.

Supposedly the Federation, courtesy of pattern replicators and nearly unlimited energy (antimatter), has eliminated poverty, war and disease within its borders. According to "First Contact", it happened within 50 years of Zephram Cochrane's first warp flight. But I don't think that nations will ultimately beat their swords into plowshares, or that crime will be nearly eliminated, even with unlimited energy and nearly unlimited resources. I don't think eliminating "want" will sufficiently suppress the dark, "evil" element of human nature.

Moreover, if everyone lives equally and has all material needs provided for, why would anyone want to take a more difficult job? Why not be a peaceful man like Boothby, living a fairly easy life without much exertion, instead of a Starfleet crewman or officer? What incentive did Geordi have to become chief engineer, instead of remaining a junior officer stationed at the helm? Is it really a sense of personal achievement?

Ah, but admirals travel in luxurious suites, while ensigns apparently have to share quarters (episode "Lower Decks"). So everybody is not equal, after all. There is indeed a material incentive to improve yourself, beyond the "bettering oneself" that Picard told Lily in "First Contact". It's one of those inconsistencies about TNG's utopia.

At least in DS9 you see people like Sisko's father. Joseph has an actual business going, with a genuine concern about customers -- he genuinely needs them. If the Federation provides basic needs for everyone, why should he care about being successful? Would he work so hard, especially preparing food by hand, if it were only personal satisfaction? Why not work just a few hours a day?

And in the episode where O'Brien was "in the zone" regarding darts, why would that Vulcan officer (who won by default when O'Brien tore his shoulder) bother to collect his 15-to-1 winnings? What does he spend it on, or are there actual capitalist systems within the Federation?

In the episode "Encounter at Farpoint", Dr. Crusher bought a bolt of cloth. She said to charge it to "Beverly Crusher, Chief Medical Officer, USS Enterprise." They were in a mall, implying lots of similar shops and other "capitalist" vendors. But it's an actual Federation space station, not just a non-Federation world they happened to visit.

Every mercy for the criminal, but none for the victim

The folks at Q and O were having a discussion about falling crime rates versus the increasing percentage of Americans behind bars. Naturally, liberals won't want to admit the inverse relationship: put criminals behind bars, and they can't commit crimes. Now that is what I call real deterrence. You deter criminals from committing crimes because they simply can't. As I previously wrote, Jessica Lunsford would be alive today if her murderer had served proper time for his previous offenses. That murderous bastard couldn't have committed his most recent crimes if he'd been properly jailed for his previous offences!

My addition to the comments was about something I noticed at my current (temporary) workplace:
I saw this statistic on someone's desk at the Ford Foundation, while upgrading software on his PC. It's only a short-term project, thank goodness. As Don Luskin said, I'm working in "the belly of the vast left-wing conspiracy."

I forget the precise wording, but the blurb went something like, "There's a 34% reduction in sentencing with public defender teams." I presume that's compared to sentences when only one public defender was representing.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why we would want to reduce sentences for criminals? When criminals are extended this mercy by the court, did they deserve it because they reduced the severity of their crimes by a corresponding percentage? Or will they, in return, reduce the brutality of their future crimes?

Every mercy for the criminal, but none for the victim.
It's probably obvious, but I should clarify anyway. With all the bleeding hearts at the FF, the statistic was talking about sentence reductions as a good thing.

Admittedly I feel like a real sell-out, helping (though it's just IT) a foundation dedicated to all these liberal/socialist causes. On one floor, I saw several posters talking about people's "right" to housing, to education, to health care. To hell with all those "rights" -- just give me the rights to my own life, my own liberty, and my own property. These other "rights" that the FF, UN and Oxfam advocate aren't "rights" at all, because they take away from my right to keep my own property. Why else do you think the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn't protect your property rights, except your right to own property "alone as well as in association with others"? Because the non-life, non-liberty, non-property rights for everyone else mean taking your property. All the UN need do is say your property is owned in "association with others" (i.e. socialism), and it's legal for them to take it for "the greater good."

The one I still don't comprehend is "the right to nationality."

"Don't hate me because I make it possible for you to bury your dead"

"Death business booms in Baghdad":
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Hussein Mohammed never dreamt that roadside bombs and suicide attacks in Baghdad would make him a fortune.

"With every victim that falls to an explosion and suicide attack, the demand for coffins increases and my work flourishes," said the coffin-maker in his tiny shop in the heart of the war-torn capital.
But not all Iraqis are happy.
"Lots of people have asked me to change my job and I always answer: If I didn't make coffins, how would you bury your dead?

"I am happy with what I'm doing. I remind many people of death and when they see me they remember God and return to their faith."

But Mohammed's constant smile angers some.

"Once a lady told me: 'You're always happy because you earn your living from the death of people and for that reason you always need them to die'," he said.
Absolutely right. He's providing a needed service. Perhaps his critics would prefer the old days of dictatorship, when Saddam Hussein, his sons and their cronies had hundreds of thousands murdered, then buried in mass graves without coffins?

I'm a bit annoyed

Like I said in my previous entry, those of us who want the government to get out of "charity" are not talking about eliminating all charity. Well, someone accused me of being unchristian, and I'm pretty offended. I left the following reply:
nicholas, perhaps you should do me the courtesy of reading my entire blog before accusing me of having no charity? I think that would be the "Christian" thing to do, i.e. make a judgment against someone only when you have all the facts at your disposal?

I have never once spoken out against charity -- REAL charity. But I continually speak out against government taking money from us under the guise of "charity." Haven't several decades of "taking from the haves and giving to the have-nots" shown you that government doesn't care how well its "charitable" programs perform? After all, it's not government's money. It has no incentive to give money in the most efficient manner to the most deserving. It doesn't care if those in genuine need slip through the cracks, while others who could support themselves get public assistance. It doesn't care that 40 years of "war on poverty" hasn't done a whit of difference and in fact has encouraged more people to stay on the public dole.

Really, you might want to take a closer look at my blog to see what I'm talking about.

Now, Christ was not merely a "Jew" who cited the Torah as why we should act charitably. Remember that "charity" in the KJV is translated today as "love," which is what true charity is: love for each other. Christ said, "This _I_ command you, that ye love one another." He didn't say, "I gave this to Moses as the Law, that you love one another." Christ said that it was HIS command to us.
In retrospect, I should have said at the start "sufficient facts" instead of "all the facts." It's not always possible to have complete information at your disposal. That notwithstanding, the rest of my comment is appropriate. I'm more than a little indignant here.

P.J. O'Rourke on Social Security

Via Cato's Daily Dispatch (a daily e-mail newsletter), a reprint of P.J. O'Rourke's article "Freedom, Responsibility ... and What? Social Security Reform — An Explanation" (originally from the Atlantic, May 2005).

Anything that slams Paul Krugman is worth reading, but O'Rourke has a very sobering counter to the next person that brags about "full faith and credit," that the federal government has never failed to pay a Social Security benefit:
Consult American Indians for a further discussion of government promises.
I wonder how O'Rourke would have done in Michael Tanner's place at the Great Social Security debate. This would have been a real zinger to throw at Krugman (and the moderator, heaven knows she was practically Krugman's mouthpiece):
Is Social Security a pension scheme — a matter of freedom, responsibility, and property rights? Or is Social Security a charity — a matter of freedom, responsibility, and civic duties? Both sides want it both ways. Franklin Roosevelt, according to his grandson James, believed that Social Security should be "simple, guaranteed, fair, earned, and available to all Americans." But something that is earned cannot be simple or guaranteed or available to all, and its fairness will be disputable. Meanwhile, no conservative is talking about abandoning the injured, the orphaned, the abject, or the hopelessly goofy.
Exactly the point. Krugman & Co. act like we want to end government charity and replace it with nothing. That's the furthest thing from the truth. We conservatives (true conservatives who believe in limited government) and libertarians want to end government charity and replace it with something else: the personal freedom to help those you want, those you feel are deserving.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Star Trek economics

Please check part two for more on Star Trek economics.

I have always enjoyed "Star Trek" immensely, with the exception of "Enterprise", which I greatly dislike even down to the theme music. I still must smile, though, at the inconsistencies of the Federation's economics. Without money, without prices, Mises would question how the Federation could make any rational economic decisions -- from what textile to use for uniforms to how many starships and of what class.

In the Eastern Time Zone, Spike TV has been broadcasting two episodes of DS9 at midday, then two TNG afterward. The second one today, "Shakaar", is one of my favorites. It really elicits hate for Kai Winn (admirably played by Louise Fletcher), but it also has underlying themes of economics and personal liberty. DS9 is my favorite of the Trek series, in part because its portrayal of life is more realistic. The episodes are character-driven like the original series, but there are none of the silly utopian elements of TNG. There are Bajoran farmers trying to make a living, Ferengi capitalists interested in profit, and real warfare with real political intrigue.

"Shakaar" begins with Major Kira and Odo worrying about Kai Winn, a dangerous plotting woman (who reminds me of Hillary Clinton) looking to become First Minister in the upcoming elections. Kai Winn made a surprise visit to the station, asking Major Kira to go to a particular farming community on behalf of the Bajoran provisional government. The Bajoran government had lent a couple of its soil reclamators to some farmers, among whom is Shakaar (the former leader of Kira's resistance cell during the Cardassian occupation, and her future love interest). The government wanted the reclamators back, because it could put them to better use in a farming project elsewhere.

Shakaar refused to give them up, because the Bajoran government had (apparently) agreed to let them have the reclamators for a certain amount of time. Kira tried to explain that the other province could grow more crops with the reclamators, and that Bajor could start exporting crops. This is very true. The same resources elsewhere could produce far more crops, and Bajor could export those. Trade them for things that Bajor could not make as easily. Shakaar refused, wondering how Kira could talk about exports when the Bajorans still needed to worry about feeding themselves. But he missed the point of trade. As Ed Leamer once testified before the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, American companies like Microsoft and Boeing provide cheap textiles and plastic toys for Americans. How? Well, they create other things that we trade to other nations, who can produce cheap textiles and plastics, but not computer software and aircraft.

This brings up something sticky, that the farmers are relying on the government to provide him with the means to make a living. But Bajor was recovering from years of Cardassian occupation, and it's possible that the Federation and others had given reclamators and other equipment to the Bajorans to help with reconstruction. The equipment would have been given to the provisional government, whose bureaucrats would decide which provinces would get what equipment.

Shakaar was wrong about trade, but he was right about the only thing that really matters: freedom. The government had made a deal and had no right to repossess the reclamator, even if it was for the "greater good." Kai Winn said to Sisko that Shakaar was "defying the law," then exploded, "This isn't about soil reclamators. This is about the future of our society!" Like so many central planners, like rulers with a "vision," Winn felt that she knew best for her people, that she alone knew how to guide them to prosperity. This necessarily means that anyone opposing her idea of "progress" is a criminal. In fact, all Shakaar wanted was that the Bajoran government stick to the terms under which it lent the equipment to the farmers -- the rule of law, not of men. Shakaar did "resist arrest," it is true, but he was merely resisting unlawful arrest when he had committed no crime.

Recall the Patrick Henry quote that I put on the right side: "You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government." Without liberty, without the freedom to live your own life so long as you do no harm to others, prosperity and national prominence are meaningless.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Walk thy dog, lest thy god smite you

Note that I wrote "god" with a lowercase g, which in this case is the almighty state that decides what's good for you, what's bad for you, and what you should do. You just can't make this stuff up:
ROME (Reuters) - Dog owners in Turin will be fined up to 500 euros ($650) if they don't walk their pets at least three times a day, under a new law from the city's council.

People will also be banned from dyeing their pets' fur or "any form of animal mutilation" for merely aesthetic motives such as docking dogs' tails, under the law about to be passed in the northern Italian city.

"In Turin it will be illegal to turn one's dog into a ridiculous fluffy toy," the city's La Stampa daily reported.

Italians can already be fined up to 10,000 euros and spend a year in prison if found guilty of torturing or abandoning their pets, but Turin's new rules go into much greater detail.

Dogs may be led for walks by people on bicycles, the rules say, "but not in a way that would tire the animal too much."

Italy considers itself an animal-loving nation and in many cities stray cats are protected by law. Still some 150,000 pet dogs and 200,000 cats are abandoned in Italy every year, according to animal rights groups.

To enforce the law, Turin police would rely largely on the help of tipsters spotting cruel treatment by their neighbors, La Stampa reported.

It said the 20-page rulebook gives Turin the most stringent animal protection rules in the country. It even bans fairgrounds from giving away goldfish in plastic bags.
I can't remember the last time I heard of any law so blatantly ridiculous. This isn't just an animal rights law, it's a law declaring, "We're from the government and by God, we're the ultimate authority on every part of your life."

Big government, in its claimed benevolence and self-professed omniscience, can plan society so well that it even knows your dog's precise needs. What about the elderly or handicapped who like dogs but can't walk them three times a day, but whose dogs nonetheless enjoy the companionship? What about some dogs that don't like to be walked? Mine didn't, being a true and very lazy house dog. We had fenced front and back yards, so we'd let him out to do his business, or so he could stretch out on the lawn and enjoy "his" domain. It was so funny how the pooch really did consider it all "his" territory.

Note that part about "tipsters" to alert the police. Got a grudge against your neighbor? Accuse him of not walking his dog. Did you get stuck in traffic on the way home from work? You'd better eat out or order out if you won't have time to cook dinner and take Rover out.

Sadly, I fear many more thousands of dogs will be abandoned on the street, because owners will no longer be able to take care of them "as mandated by law." Like the minimum wage and France's 35-hour work week, it demonstrates the law of unintended consequences. Yes, some will be better off, but others will be left behind. Government didn't think anyone would be left worse off, because it didn't account for incentive.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Some Big Apple news

On my way home from Manhattan, I picked up a copy of the New York Post. While I've criticized it several times for supporting the West Side Stadium and Chuck Schumer, it does have a lot of news (not necessarily tabloid-ish, either) that the major newspapers won't print.

How much did "Rev." Sharpton know? You won't find this in the New York Times. The Post has a very, very interesting article on two of Al's top fund-raisers. Wiretapes show that they apparently wanted to make a deal with him: they would have raised even more money for his presidential campaign if he used his connections to set up meetings with Pepsi executives and powerful union leaders.

Last month I wrote about a Girl Scout whose father was ticketed for allegedly helping her sell cookies from the sidewalk. The charges are now dismissed, thank God. What really warmed my heart was an investment banker who bought 1000 boxes and donated them to a food program. (Not to toot my own horn, since I didn't go through with it, but I myself had the idea of buying some to donate to a food pantry or homeless shelter.)

Richard Smith, the former Staten Island ferry pilot who blacked out and caused the deaths of 11 ferry passengers in October 2003, might get only 21 to 27 months in jail. He killed 11 people and might not even serve two years behind bars? His defense lawyers claim that "He is the only person charged in this case to accept any responsibility," which forgets that he had no choice. The evidence was so obvious and incontrovertible, so he plead guilty to get a deal. In other words, the prosecutor wanted to save a few bucks and the cost of a long trial, so 11 people are dead while their killer will walk away after two years. At least, the article concludes with, "Under new rules implemented in November 2004, Smith would have faced up to 63 months behind bars, prosecutors said." BIG DEAL! Five years in prison is still nothing for the level of his crime.

Finally, an NYC judge who's truly tough on crime. A Queens man had confessed to hanging his 2-year-old son with an electrical cord. Good heavens, could there be more heinous a crime? The judge on Wednesday still sentenced him to 22-years-to-life. "You hung a 2-year-old baby. I hope they never let you out, Mr. Batista. Take him away."

This NYC "computer operator" doesn't need "schooling," but to be fired. The City Comptroller's office has been issuing checks sometimes 100 times larger than they should have been. As the Comptroller's spokesman said, "Now you can understand how the Department of Education was $156 million over budget last fiscal year." A private business would have fired an employee for making such grievous errors. Government, though, just "trains" the employee and still doesn't have to care about anything but looking good. After all, the errors cost government nothing -- they cost the taxpayers, but not the government employees.

Who really believes it's "free"?

Westchester County (where I live) has had a "Bee Line" bus strike for the last long while. It's now been resolved, and the Westchester County government wants to make it up to everybody:
To compensate riders for the financial hardship and inconvenience they faced during the long strike of the Bee-Line buses, all rides will be free until May 31, County Executive Andy Spano and Legislators Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jose Alvarado announced today.

In addition, March "Passports" will be valid until June 30. Rides will also be free on the county's ParaTransit service for the disabled and elderly through May 31.

"I know how much the riding public has suffered," Spano said. "The waiving of fares is an important step in easing the financial burden so many of them faced and in rebuilding our ridership. And I hope that it encourages people who never tried the buses before to give them a try."

Buses are expected to be on the road Saturday. The free fares will apply to ALL routes, not just those operated by Liberty Lines, which had been the target of the strike. In accordance with federal laws, this includes the ParaTransit system for the disabled and elderly.
My goodness, isn't Westchester's government generous, wanting to "compensate" everybody? Of course, it's perfectly easy for government to do so -- it's backed by the "full faith and credit" of the taxpayer's wallet.

Really, who honestly believes the fares will be "free"? From where do they think Westchester County will get the money to provide six weeks of "free" bus service? I'll tell you where: the same source by which the federal government will redeem the Treasuries in the Social Security trust fund. Any person who really understands either issue realizes that, hey, we the taxpayer ultimately foot the bill. But liberals like Krugman, DeLong, Dean Baker, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Rational Action don't like to admit that. (That reminds me, I haven't checked RA's blog to see if he ever replied to my latest rebuttal.) These devout state-worshippers blabber about the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. government, acting like there's a Santa Claus to give government the money. Then again, that's how big government perceives taxpayers. Forget the credit card analogy: we're year-round Santa Clauses, even when government is so (typically) very, very bad.

Westchester County's leaders are now pulling the same trick, trying to elicit thanks and cheers for the six weeks of "free" buses. They'll never admit that only a small subset of the population ever ride the Bee-Line, while the cost is distributed among everybody -- including many of us who don't ride the bus because we live and work nowhere near the routes. Yet we'll still pay like everybody else. Westchester County's government is even trying to lure new people to the service with the six weeks of "free" rides. By definition that increases the operating costs, so more tax dollars are required. Isn't that a great deal?

A subsidy by any other name still reeks with the same stink.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Yankees getting "soxed" by luxury tax

Yankees will pay record luxury tax
The struggling New York Yankees will be hit with a record luxury tax this year. Initial projections by the commissioner's office based on opening-day rosters have the Yankees owing $30,637,531, according to information obtained this week by The Associated Press.

The only other team projected to owe a tax is the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who would pay $969,177.

Going into Wednesday night, the Yankees were just 5-9, tied with Tampa Bay for last place in the American League East.

For the luxury tax, payrolls are based on the average annual values of contracts for all players on the 40-man roster and include benefits. Under that formula, the Yankees opened with a payroll of $204.6 million, followed by Boston ($131.2 million), the New York Mets ($116.4 million), the Los Angeles Angels ($111.2 million) and Seattle ($109.3 million).

Teams with payrolls above $128 million owe tax this year. The Yankees pay at a rate of 40 percent for the amount they are over because they will be exceeding the threshold for the third time under the labor contract that began in 2003. The Red Sox, projected to be over for the second time, pay at a 30 percent rate.

Baseball will send the bills in late December based on end-of-season figures.
Too bad the "luxury tax" is going to major league baseball, and not to NYC, which will spend $300 million on improvements to facilitate the Yankees' upcoming new stadium.

Am I boring?

Ace of Spades links to bookofjoe, who links to a quiz, Which Polyhedral Are You? My quiz result was:

You are a good old-fashioned six-sided cube, otherwise known as a d6. Others know you to be plain, predictable, conservative, average, ordinary, and downright boring. You prefer to describe yourself as dependable, honest, practical and trustworthy. People usually know what to expect from you, since you rarely hold any surprises. You hate to make decisions, and if forced to decide, you'll always fall back on how it was done in the past. You always order the same thing at your favorite restaurant, and your jokes, while funny, are never too offensive. It seems that you are well liked, but maybe that's simply because there's nothing to hate.

I think it sounds a lot like me. Boring? I never thought of myself that way, but I suppose I am predictable. I like to determine what works and stay within that pattern. However, while I think the past is a valuable guide to making decisions, if a course of action failed in the past, then obviously things must be done differently this time around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Moussaoui guilty plea to be accepted

A federal judge will accept Zacarias Moussaoui's guilty plea on the terrorist charges against him. [Edit: I originally wrote Moussaoui was pleading guilty, but he already has. The news today is that a judge will now accept it.]

I'm glad to see he can still be sentenced to death. Let's throw him in the electric chair and be done with him. No mere prison term, unlike what happened to traitor John Walker Lindh.

I always maintained that Lindh should have been executed for outright treason. Treason is defined quite specifically in the Constitution, Article III, Section 3. Lindh was caught adhering to and giving aid and comfort to our enemies. Open and shut.

The only regret I have about capital punishment is that it's often too good for these scum. We're supposed to be "merciful" and execute criminals with minimal pain, lest we violate the Eighth Amendment's "cruel and unusual" clause. When did the criminals, though, give a damn about showing "mercy" to their victims?

Never forget Shirley Crook, who was bound and gagged, then thrown into a river to drown. As I wrote, we experienced more tyranny of the judiciary when the Supreme Court ruled her murderer couldn't be executed. He was under 18, and based on "international" standards, it would be "cruel and unusual" to execute him. Let's just forget that the little bastard had already bragged to his friends how he'd do such a crime and get away with it, because of his age.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Of Mice and Blogs

One of my oldest friends, Steve Tomer, just started his own blog. It's the fashionable thing to do nowadays!

It's fashionable now to have your own blog, but more importantly, they reduce the opportunity cost of acquiring new information. That was one of my thoughts on blogging when I had barely started mine. As Hayek wrote, knowledge is dispersed throughout society. Blogs facilitate an inexpensive but extremely efficient method for a lot of people to contribute their own unique bit of knowledge.

Chris Masse recently pointed me toward Jack Shafer's recent MSN Slate article on blogs. Mainstream media, naturally, was overjoyed when a lot of major blogs jumped the gun, dismissing the "Schiavo memo" as another fake. But Shafer missed the point.
Professional journalists have it all over bloggers when it comes to reporting. The first generation of bloggers tends to resist taking off their PJs and donning hip-waders to report the news from the swamp. Reporting is a learned skill, and experience counts for something. Also, professional news organizations pay for airplane tickets, hotel accommodations, car rentals, libel insurance, editing, and other resources to make reporting happen. How many unpaid bloggers will cover a war from the shrapneled front? A handful. Maybe.
Has Shafer never heard of the blogs by ordinary citizens in both Afghanistan and Iraq? A few are all you need, and as the countries' infrastructures are repaired and the economies improve, you'll see more blogs. They're the voice.

"Reporting is a learned skill"...see the arrogance of mainstream media? Since when in the several millenia of human civilization has anyone needed to go to school just to tell others of the news? I went to the Great Social Security Debate (as I call it), held in Manhattan last month. I never went to any school of journalism, yet I probably scribbled more furiously and took more notes than any professional reporters there (using an old-fashioned pad and pen).

Bloggers' advantage is that they can just be there. Like Hayek's essay "The Result of Human Action but not of Human Design", it doesn't have to be planned for bloggers to go somewhere and cover the news. They can be present by pure happenstance, which is no problem since there are far more bloggers than journalists. And sometimes, like my "coverage" of the debate, we can go to the news. Again, since there are so many bloggers, our expenses are minimal. And if a blogger is responsible enough, he won't libel someone. (Actually that can apply to a reporter to. I wonder how high Shafer's premiums are?) Granted it's a bit different, since blogs can be excused as "opinion" pieces, but that still doesn't mean they don't report the news.

Not original thoughts, but something I whipped up before getting ready for work. I'm temping this week and part of next at the Ford Foundation. Our team is performing Active Directory and Office 2003 upgrades at night, so that we don't interfere with the staff.

Monday, April 18, 2005

An idea to jump-start real tax reform

Someone once joked that if you want Congress to fix Social Security, eliminate their pension program. You'll suddenly see them spring into action and create the most perfectly solvent and efficient retirement program ever.

My idea today: we'll fix the tax code by requiring Congress and the President to do their income tax returns themselves. I would presume they have personal accountants, or they at least go to a tax service like H&R Block. After all, they find the fees well worth avoiding the hassle of doing their own taxes. Quite a few Americans can't afford that, or we do it ourselves because our time is worth less than the money.

However, under my plan, Congress will convene every April 15th to do their own taxes in public view, and the President will join them. Experiencing the tax code firsthand, they'll finally see the behemoth they've created. No computers, no cheatsheats, no fancy calculators, only their W2s, receipts and any necessary statements. They'll be supplied a basic calculator like this TI and some blank paper. They'll have to itemize and claim each deduction themselves, and sift through page after page of instructions. Can they take a Hope credit for the third year for the same child? Can they deduct that particular expense? Then they'll have to attach all the innumerable paperwork themselves, and hope it's all there so they don't get flagged for an audit. And millions of eyes will be watching C-SPAN out of pure schadenfreude, perhaps hoping to catch some Congressman or Senator cheating.

Talking to each other for help, however, will be permitted and even encouraged. I personally would love to see one tax-savvy senator blow up after being bombarded all day with, "How do you claim this deduction?" How about, "Wait a minute, Congressman, you co-sponsored that bill last year. Now does it or doesn't it permit deductions for this?" I would love to see a huge floor argument: "It's your fault! Your stupid bill had too many qualifications and too many exceptions for the deductions!"

My prediction of the aftermath: on April 16th, even if it's a Sunday, Congress would convene and start real work on the tax code. They'd probably have an immediate vote to scrap the current code after the current year and institute a flat tax.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

What kind of "privatization" is this?

Florida Privatizes Child Welfare Programs:
MIAMI - Florida has become the first state in the nation to fully privatize its child welfare programs, after signing a $75 million contract to hand over those responsibilities in its last two counties.

The deal Friday with Our Kids Inc. gives the group the right to handle all foster care, adoption and child welfare licensing operations in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, where about 5,000 children are now under state care.

"The entire state will now benefit from qualified experts that are equipped to know and meet the needs of their communities," Department of Children and Families Secretary Lucy Hadi said.

The effort has been a cornerstone of Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to improve the state's troubled child protection system.

The Miami-Dade and Monroe contract is the 23rd community-based care agreement between the state and a privately run agency. But in a shift from the other contracts, the state has agreed to pay Our Kids more money if the number of children it handles rises more than 3 percent, officials said.
Read that excerpt closely: that's not full privatization, that's only privatization of one segment. True privatization means funding too, not just administration. Nice try, Florida and Jeb Bush. B for effort, but a D+ for actual performance.

I'm not denying there are children we need to take care of, but when we leave charity up to government, government does it so badly. Private agencies compete with each other by doing the best jobs possible. There is no competition within government for performing the best service -- why else do we joke, "Close enough for government work?" And since government doesn't have to be efficient, because it can always raise taxes or borrow instead of worrying about a feasible business model, government can fail over and over.

I'm not accusing government employees of not having hearts. After all, they're human like the rest of us. But in the case the article cites, when a little girl was placed in the wrong hands, government had no competition. The case worker's only incentive was to do the right thing. On the other hand, a private agency's incentive is not only doing what's right, but staying in business. If it screws up and lets a little girl die by negligence, it loses its contract.

And as I've said before (at the end of this entry), government-induced "charity" deprives our spirits of an ineffable American quality. We need to demonstrate our charity as free and compassionate individuals, not good little citizens who figure government will do it because we pay our taxes. Letting government take care of those less fortunate is no different than letting other individuals do charity for us: though we don't want to admit it, we're afraid to do it ourselves. We're afraid to get our hands dirty. We're afraid to face the harsh realities of life, that there are those less fortunate who need our help. Letting government do it for us "sanitizes" our perception of the world.

I say that the world is an ugly, horrible place, and if we saw that up close and personal, we'd be compelled to do more than just pay our taxes. We'd be truly pushed to make things better.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

To hell with those Yankees!

Report: Yankees and local governments near deal for new stadium
The new stadium will be built just north of the existing facility in the Bronx, and is designed to seat 50,800. That's smaller than the current capacity of 57,478, but the new ballpark will have more luxury suites.
Sounds good. Fewer seats, though more total revenue (assuming people will buy tickets to the suites). But there's a catch:
The stadium construction will cost approximately $800 million and will be fully paid for by the team. The city and state will spend $300 million to build a new commuter rail station, improve parking, and create parkland along the nearby waterfront.
I've written several times about the West Side Stadium, and encouraged by the Jets, the Yankees now want their cut of taxpayer dollars. Another big business wants big government to step in to make their project feasible. Although this time isn't direct funding, the Yankees want NYC and New York state to pay for things that will support the new stadium.

To hell with the Yankees. No, they didn't blow it last year. They've blown it by getting taxpayers to pay for the extras: a new rail station, more parking, and "parkland." If you'll excuse me, I'm now going to go throw my Yankees baseball caps in the fireplace.

Start the drilling

President Bush this morning, in his weekly radio address, said we need to get going on our "national energy strategy." Why should we need an energy strategy, let alone a national one? How about ending these insane government regulations and letting the free market work?

I think it's long been time to set up the wells and pump ANWR dry. A month ago, Jonah Goldberg made a strong case, including refuting the claim that drilling would disrupt the caribou herds. Ironically, he notes, the 2000 acres for drilling are fifty times smaller than Ted Turner's Montana ranch. Actually, Ted Turner's website lists his ranches and their sizes: his Flying D ranch alone is 113,600 acres, and his other three Montana ranches total over 38,000 acres.

I disagree with Goldberg's assessment that Turner and other rich environmentalists are "daft" about ANWR or other developments. I think these ultra-rich liberals are crazy like a fox: they're using their fortunes to deprive other people of land. Now, I am the first person to argue that it's their right to purchase huge tracts of private land in Montana, Argentina or wherever. It's Ted Turner's right to "protect" wetlands by purchasing them with his own money, if he outbid others who also offered to buy the land (for whatever reason, including development). However, rich environmentalists go far beyond that.

Ted Turner likes to use his fortune to influence public policy, because he can get the same result for pennies on the dollar. In a bidding war with oil companies, even Turner couldn't afford to buy those 2000 acres of ANWR. Even if he could, what would he do with it? Pet the caribou? So it's too great an opportunity cost for Turner to buy that part of ANWR. However, for a fraction of the purchase price, he and other rich environmentalists can and do donate to environmentalist groups. Those groups lobby against ANWR drilling, that lobby zoning commissions to enact absurd restrictions because of allegedly endangered frogs and garter snakes, that lobby to "protect" wetlands and "endangered species."

Those last two are grievous examples of how the federal government sidesteps the "eminent domain" clause of the Fifth Amendment. Your land may have been private property for years, long before any "wetlands" or "endangered species" were identified. And once the federal government declares "wetlands" on your property or finds some endangered insect, that it: you can't use that part of your property anymore. Government doesn't have to compensate you at all.

Actually, Ted Turner wasn't satisfied with donating to environmentalist groups. He started his own, the Turner Endangered Species Fund. When the website claims, "We work closely with state and federal agencies, universities, and private organizations," that means they lobby government bureaucrats, liberal professors who meet their agenda, and other "private" environmentalist groups. It still comes down to the fact that these rich environmentalists can afford nice parcels of land with nice houses, and their "pro-environment" efforts make it more expensive (if not flatly impossible) for the rest of us to have the same. Their "righteous" cause drives up the prices of real estate, petroleum, lumber, etc., which is no big deal to them. They can afford it -- most of us can't.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Let Amtrak die

The AP reports that Amtrak is in more trouble:
WASHINGTON - The Acela Express, Amtrak's much-ballyhooed hope for high-speed train travel, was shut down indefinitely Friday because of brake problems, leaving thousands of travelers scrambling for other transportation.

The beleaguered rail service pressed slower trains into use between Washington, New York and Boston. It could not say how long the Acela trains would be disabled by newly discovered cracks in disc brakes.

Acela's average weekday ridership is about 9,000, and on Fridays it usually moves about 10,000 passengers along the Northeast corridor.

The cracked brakes come at a bad time for Amtrak. A Senate committee will debate next week whether to end the rail service's federal subsidy — as the Bush administration has recommended — and radically reshape train travel in the United States.
The federal government is pouring money into a business that just doesn't work. A century ago, would we have subsidized horse carriage manufacturers, or whip-makers, because they couldn't compete against the new automobiles?

Of course not. Nor should we do that today, so it's time to let Amtrak die since it clearly cannot stand on its own two feet. The quick story is that the price of its tickets aren't enough to cover its operating costs, let alone make a profit, and Amtrak operates so inefficiently with poor management, so Amtrak needs government subsidies to make up the gap. That's morally wrong, because everyone who doesn't ride Amtrak (like me) has to pay for part of Amtrak passengers' tickets. Why should any people have to pay for a service they don't use? Amtrak is not a public good, because it is a rivalrous service: if you ride on it, that's one less seat available to others.

If Amtrak had to run purely on its own revenues, its tickets would be considerably more expensive; the current subsidy of $1.2 billion would have to be distributed among its passengers. Many of the passengers, I'm sure, would stop riding Amtrak because it would be more expensive than airlines; or, airline ticket prices wouldn't be that much more expensive, making them more worth the extra speed. So, it's time to let the Amtrak dinosaur become extinct. (I won't get too much into this, but the federal bailout of airlines must also stop. Let the inefficient airlines die out too, because they also can't compete.)

But we can always count on big government to stand in the way of real progress, to subsidize yesterday's technology that no longer works. There are a lot of idiot politicians who want to do the equivalent of saving the horse carriage maker:
"When Amtrak is terribly underfunded and has to operate on a shoestring budget, these kinds of things will keep happening, which will really disrupt people's lives and our economy," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Why doesn't my aunt start running her wine store as "underfunded"? She can charge less than cost, making her artificially more competitive, and the federal government can give her a subsidy so she'll still make a profit. That's unfair, isn't it? She would be operating only because the government is helping her, when, after all, she should charge enough to stay in business. And if she does but her prices are higher than her competitors, well, that's not anyone's problem but her own? Why should we support someone with a poor business model, right?

So why is Amtrak so different? The simple answer: it's not.

And why does Schumer act like Amtrak is the only option for both its employees and passengers? If Amtrak employees are laid off, certainly they can find work elsewhere. Amtrak passengers can start flying. Schumer, though, is a schmuck who wants to save Amtrak for Amtrak's sake. He thinks it's fine that people who'll never ride Amtrak in their lives will pay for others -- like him -- to ride Amtrak.

Schumer, my senior senator, is the ultimate liberal. He's literally liberal, as in generous -- generous with other people's money. He regularly rides Amtrak between New York and Washington, but would he be willing to pay higher ticket prices to keep it solvent? I doubt it.

It's the whole liberal idea that if you take a penny from everyone, you can give it to a special interest group, and taxpayers won't notice it too much. If taxpayers grumble, it's not worth their time to fight about the penny. Meanwhile, big government makes sure they can never fight over whole dollars. If you complain about paying taxes, you're accused of not wanting to pay your "fair share." Or you're accused of not wanting to "help the poor" and others who benefit from tax revenues.

Today, Tax Day, remember how much of your taxes go to pay for goods and services that other people use. I know Cato reported in 2001 that federal subsidies to private businesses were already up to $87 billion per year. God only knows what it is now. Sadly, as Dr. Richard Ebeling of FEE once said to me, "This government makes criminals of us all." Even when trying to engage in nothing but honest commerce, we inevitably take advantage of subsidies paid for by others.

To paraphrase Walter Williams, how about completely eliminating subsidies to everyone: you pay full price for what you buy and consume, and I'll pay full price for my own purchases and consumption. Isn't that the fair thing to do? If not, explain why should I have to pay for any part of your life, and you for any part of mine?

Baghdad real estate: getting pricey

(I changed the title, because "booming" isn't necessarily what's happening in the article.)

The AP reports:
Residential real estate prices in Iraq's capital have quadrupled in many parts of the city, says Ali al-Difaie, 54, the manager of a government office that processes property deeds. Al-Difaie and real estate agents say the rise is driven by an increase in income since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago and the liberalization of building and property laws.

"A friend from London came to me to complain about the prices," says Haider al-Rubie, 32, a Baghdad real estate agent. "This is crazy."

Statistics are hard to come by, but al-Difaie says an average 3,000-square-foot home in Baghdad's upscale Mansour district sells for $300,000 now. That is four times the Saddam-era prices. Prices are similar in other middle-class neighborhoods around the capital, al-Difaie says.
This is supply and demand at work. Why is this such a problem? As people's income grows, the most valuable resources will go up in price, because there are more who are willing to pay for it. Let me update with another thought: perhaps not as many people wanted to live in Baghdad, under the shadows of Saddam and his cronies, but now it's a better city to live in.

Or perhaps the Iraqi people would prefer cheap housing as slaves?

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
- Patrick Henry, 1775

A gilded cage is still a cage. A cheap house under a dictator's boot is still living under tyranny. Would you really prefer a country where you can buy a house for one-fourth the price, but Uday Hussein might rape and murder your 14-year-old daughter?

Are we becoming a "service" economy?

(This is from a comment I left on Larry Kudlow's blog.)

I'm very big on free trade. Very big, and I'm concerned about all the myths today. We talk about "trade imbalances" and "trade deficits" -- words that, to some, imply a balance is ideal, no matter the cost. There are a lot of other terms thrown around which also confuse most people, like "exporting" jobs.

We must be careful about the word "service," which can mean different things to different people. Socialist-liberals like the EPI, or 89, think heavy industry has always been the key to American economic success. They think we're turning into a nation of waiters and janitors while our "good jobs" are "exported" abroad. I disagree because the evidence shows quite the contrary. The EPI likes to claim that we've had declining real (adjusted for inflation) wages since the 1970s. That was true, but it started to reverse in the early part of this decade. Wages are now rising faster than inflation, which is why Social Security needs to be tied to prices, not wages.

The U.S. has continued to prosper because we have a comparative advantage in innovation, and we have a high degree of freedom and prosperity that attracts innovators from abroad. It's true that in the past, our innovation was in heavy industry, or at least we depended a lot on it. Everything's changed with the return to free trade, and companies using foreign labor pools.

Today, we still have a comparative advantage in innovation. However, it's no longer based in heavy industry. It's in design. It's in thinking. As Ed Leamer (a great UCLA professor and economist) once put it, companies like Microsoft and Disney provide us with cheap plastics and textiles. We create the software, movies, etc., that China and India cannot easily make. Meanwhile, China, India and others create plastics and textiles more cheaply than we can. Then we trade, and it raises the standard of living for everybody.

So many worry about American companies moving manufacturing plants overseas, but most R&D stays right here. The R&D jobs are the ones we want to keep: they're the thinking jobs, the highest-paying jobs, unlike the low-grade manufacturing jobs set up in Bangalore or wherever. (If they didn't pay better than manufacturing, then by definition nobody would want to do them.) Sure, Intel and others have set up R&D centers in India, but most that started here will stay right here. If it's true that Indians and Chinese will work for a fraction of our workers, why do the jobs stay here at all? Ah, that's simply because there are things the Indians and Chinese can't do as well as we. Maybe you can hire six Indian programmers for the price of one in Redmond, but Microsoft knows they get better output from their American employee.

I'm not being racist, just observing that China, India and other similar nations have a comparative advantage in labor-based work. There are things they can't do as well as Americans, because we (and most other Western nations) have a comparative advantage in capital-based work. That's true even in these days of supposed high capital mobility. I argue that capital mobility hasn't equalized any economies, let alone made the U.S. a "service-based" economy of waiters and hamburger flippers ("race to the bottom" just isn't true). Uninhibited capital mobility, I think, is actually sharpening the delineation between labor-intensive economies and capital-intensive economies.

I highly recommend reading what Ed Leamer has said about this. He's pointed out that technological advancement has destroyed more jobs than free trade. You want manufacturing jobs? High-paying ones? Fine, let's start destroying the robots at auto plants. In fact, let's destroy all our factories, all our technology that reduces the need for human labor. They're destroying jobs, don't you know?

Caroline Baum once wrote for Bloomberg that there's an economy with 100% employment, and in fact it'll have more work than workers: a hunter-gatherer society. Plenty for everyone to do, just no free time to enjoy life, and no excess income to have anything beyond food and shelter.

Our economy has gravitated to a pretty good compromise. We have a high standard of living, a really good unemployment rate, and sustained economic growth. Americans are lazy and stupid, we're always told, compared to Europeans and the Japanese? For being smarter, where are the Europeans? For being better working, where are the Japanese? They're graying cultures sitting on demographic time bombs, mired in economic stagnation.

For being such supposedly stupid and lazy people, we've done pretty well, haven't we? I firmly believe the U.S. is blessed by God. It started with the blessings of prosperity on our original colonists, and with the bulletproof George Washington. You may recall that Washington was shot at during one battle of the French & Indian War, and none of the many bullets could hit him. That was the Hand of Providence. It's the individual blessings that have sustained our great country.


I've decided to allow anyone to comment

I'll see how it goes. My blog had always restricted comments to registered Blogger users, which I'll return to if my comments start filling up with spam, or stupid little comments.

Larry Kudlow allowed anyone to comment, until recently, when all the anonymous tripe got to be too much.

Giving back to the government, part II

Tim at Random Observations makes a very good followup to what I said a couple of days ago:
Socialists like to use this bible misquote because they think it applies to "the rich" only -- or at least those rich who won't demonstrate their "right attitude" by advocating socialism. No. Love of money can strike in those of any economic bracket or political stripe.

It's easy to see how a wealthy man might love "mammon" (bread). (Though he instead might not.) But it's also true that the angry socialist railing against the rich also has an inordinant love of money -- it's just that he's angry someone else has control of it right now. Someone clearly morally inferior to himself.
Check out the rest, and his excellent conclusion about the deity that socialists project onto money.

Tim, I apologize you can't leave a quick comment on my blog. From the start, I've restricting comments to registered Blogger users as an anti-spam measure. It's not flawless, but I've had to delete trash comments only a few times.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Don't you feel safer?

Dale Franks of QandO says we all should, because the UN unanimously outlawed terrorists' use of nuclear weapons. I'm sure the next step is a General Assembly resolution outlawing people being rude -- wait, no, that can't happen. It would outlaw half of France.

Meanwhile, don't you feel safer that a former Guantanamo prisoner, a lying SOB, is back home in Kuwait -- and free on bail? He's free again to consort with his fellow terrorists and other Islamofascist thugs. I haven't seen this at all on the major blogs, and I'm surprised:
A Kuwaiti who returned home in January after three years in the U.S. detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay said Thursday he hadn't even heard of the Sept. 11 attacks when he was seized by troops in Afghanistan in 2001.

Nasser al-Mutairi, who was released on bail Wednesday by a Kuwaiti court, said he was doing charity work in Afghanistan and had no knowledge of — or role in — the attacks on the United States that triggered the U.S.-led invasion.

"I was in shock, I had nothing to do with the situation," the bearded 27-year-old told The Associated Press in an interview. "I hadn't heard of (the attacks), we did not have radios or televisions."
Really, now? But the article also mentions this:
Al-Mutairi told a different story to the U.S. military panel at Guantanamo, which ruled he was an enemy combatant. According to a transcript of his testimony filed in federal court in Washington, al-Mutairi told the tribunal he had spent most of his time in Afghanistan on the front lines of the Taliban's fight against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.

Al-Mutairi said he was serving "rabat," a type of Muslim religious duty he said involved waiting on the front lines of Afghanistan's civil war to discourage any more fighting. He said he never fired a shot, although he was armed with a rifle and two hand grenades. He did not tell the tribunal anything about distributing food to the poor.

Al-Mutairi also told the panel that he heard about the 2001 terrorist attacks shortly after they happened, not from his U.S. captors. He said he first heard about the bomb attack on Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, which came days before the attacks on Washington and New York.

"So after about a day or two, I heard the news about Sept. 11," al-Mutairi testified. "After that, all I heard was about the events of 9/11 and there was no more talk about Massoud."

Asked later about that testimony, al-Mutairi stuck by his account in the interview and denied making the comments in the transcript, saying they were the result either of translator error or fabrications by investigators.

"They made up the story," he said. "Investigators can say anything." He said he told the panel members about his charity work "but they did not believe me."
Yeah. He's innocent. So is everybody in prison, didn't you know? Any confessions they made were falsely transcribed. Yes, that's it! And confessions in open court were never made, either. The court reporters lied on the transcripts, and any witnesses who heard them in court are lying too!

If the translators lied, all right. But to accuse them of "translator error"? Transcribing "I was doing charity work" as "I was on the front lines with a rifle and grenades" is a doozy of an error to make -- and it's an excuse so ludicrous that I'm convinced of his guilt.

That had to have hurt

A while back I got into an online argument with a couple of young economics students, defending Henry Hazlitt, Gene Callahan (who I've had the privilege of knowing through Dr. Ikeda) and even Donald Luskin, while the two extolled Keynes.

Well, Alex Tabarrok made a humorous but far more potent defense of Hazlitt than I ever could. Not only that, he took Brad DeLong to task:
But the misreading is Brad's not Hazlitt's. Keynes is criticizing classical economics for focusing on the long run and this certainly includes the classical focus on savings as a key to economic growth. Hazlitt, as Brad notes, is restating classical economics so when Hazlitt points out the long-run problems with using spending to increase short-run aggregate demand, Keynes does, in effect, reply "We are all dead in the long run."

For some, it seems, one lesson is not enough. :)
Oof! Brad, did that hurt as much as it looked?

Dr. Tabarrok quoted what's possibly the single sentence where Keynes summed up his beliefs:
To dig holes in the ground, paid for out of savings, will increase, not only employment, but the real national dividend of useful goods and services.
My problem with Keynes is the focus on aggregate demand. Even neo-Keynesianism, boiled down to one fundamental, is still about government stimulating aggregate demand. That produces so many dangerous implications. For example, Brad DeLong recently blogged:
When can deficit spending in a recession help?

1. When it is part of a stable and sustainable structure of economic policy, so that nobody fears that it is the beginning of a process of rampant inflation or expropriation. In that case deficit spending will have no deleterious effects on investment, and to the extent that it gets more money into the hands of those who are temporarily short of cash it will boost demand and employment.

2. When things are already so bad (as in 1933 and 1934) that there is no investment anyway: if business confidence is already at its nadir, deficit spending cannot do any harm by reducing investment, and does good by putting people to work and boosting their incomes and their demand.
The first answer means a policy of social engineering, so that people think it's acceptable for government to spend more to "cure" recessions -- that government ought to step in to help sustain employment. That leads to the second part, that people think it's necessary for government to do that because private business can't do it.

My late father grew up during the Depression, and he later mistakenly praised the CCC and WPA for "putting people to work." Even if they created nothing at the end of the day, he said, "at least they were doing something." As Bastiat said, that is what is seen. What is not seen is that government borrows money which could have been lent to businesses. This is true crowding-out. Not the disproved notion that government borrowing will drive up interest rates, but that government borrows money to finance unprofitable things (for the sake of "employment" and sustaining "aggregate demand" though the government programs don't create new wealth), when businesses could have used that money to create real jobs and real wealth.

Perhaps government can borrow from foreigners, particularly those with excess savings? Even if the government programs produce no new wealth, the argument goes, at least we're creating employment. But the foreigners could have instead invested in our private sector, or they could have purchased our exports. Exports by definition have real value, and they require real jobs behind them -- not digging holes and filling them back up.

DeLong's second answer is based on modern liberalism's self-justification that government must do for people what they cannot do for themselves. Actually, FDR and his administration didn't even give business investment a chance to recover. With new regulations and incredible tax hikes (some marginal tax rates were 98%), FDR (and the Congresses that rubber-stamped his proposals) discouraged investment in worthwhile, profitable business. When the federal government under Hoover and FDR raised taxes and poured more and more money into public works, it was another time big government told people, "You wouldn't know what to do with that money anyway." The reality is that the Fed should have reversed its monetary overcontraction, and the federal government should have cut taxes or at least not raise them. Business owners and investors knew exactly what to do with their money: they'd expand businesses, creating new jobs and new wealth. Big government, though, enacted banking, business and labor regulations, and high taxes of course, that made it fruitless to invest.

And the New Deal still wasn't effective at all. The Depression got even worse throughout the 1930s, suddenly plunging in 1937-1938, and even most who revere FDR will say it was World War II that ended the Depression, not the New Deal (although that isn't quite true either). Keynesian-apologist bunk like this blames the Depression's sudden worsening on a cut in federal spending. The claim is that FDR wanted a balanced budget. The raw data shows that FDR's "balanced budget" had an 8% spending drop in 1937 compared to 1936 to 1937, and a 10% drop in 1938 compared to 1937 (17% overall). However, "tax receipts" surged 37% in 1937 compared to 1936, and then 25% in 1938 compared to 1937 -- an overall increase of 72%. Yes, the federal government cut spending, but it was simultaneously raising taxes -- raising taxes a lot. The top tax rate soared to 79% in 1936, after being raised to 63% in 1932. Massive spending cuts by themselves would have sufficed, but not with simultaneous tax hikes. The higher taxes and constrictive regulations simply discouraged businesses and their owners from doing anything profitable with money. Business owners could expand their businesses, but the after-tax income wouldn't be worth the increasing marginal cost. Would-be investors could save money, but who would borrow it? Government making it unprofitable to create wealth is why the Depression worsened, not because FDR wanted a balanced budget.

Ironically, as I mentioned last month, FDR during the 1932 campaign criticized Hoover as taxing and spending too much. At the Foundation for Economic Education February Evening at FEE, Dr. Richard Ebeling described how many free-market advocates would agree with what Roosevelt said prior to taking office:
He ran on a Democratic Party political platform that most people in this room, I would suggest, would have supported. He thought that the federal government was intruding too much in local and state affairs. The platform said that government spending had to be cut, the budget had to be balanced, and regulation had to be reduced. And that the United States had to be sound, upon a solid currency backed by gold. Of course, when he took office in March of 1933, Franklin Roosevelt began to implement policies that were exact opposite of that.
Today FDR is revered by many, considered by a lot to be one of the greatest presidents, and few (if any) of those people know what he campaigned on. He's revered because "he did something" when nobody else did. If the truth be told, he criticized Hoover's interventionism before engaging in the same practices. And as I showed, a balanced budget isn't intrinsically desirable, not when it requires tax hikes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Stuck like...mussels?

Kaichang Li, a biochemist, and his research group have synthesized glue based on mussels' natural adhesive.
"The plywood we make with this adhesive can be boiled for several hours and the adhesive holds as strong as ever," Li said. "Regular plywood bonded with urea-formaldehyde resins could never do that."
If I may say so, that is just way cool. Right now the glue might be too expensive to be practical, but some years down the line, it'll be an economical alternative.

Personally, I don't really care for mussels or oysters as food. Clams are ok in dip, but the only way I like them is in chowder (preferably New England style). The only mollusca I care to eat is squid. The Morgan Stanley retail branch where I worked often has catered lunches, and it was a tragedy that we stopped ordering from this local restaurant. It has particularly excellent calamari.

Give us your tired, your poor, but only if we can tax them to hell

The AP reports on people who don't report all of their income on tax returns. At the risk of sedition, I say these people are doing nothing wrong. It's true that the law and IRS code says the cited examples are taxable income, but I say we're already overtaxed. Furthermore, for a supposedly progressive tax system, the IRS wants to extract every last tax dollar from all the wrong people -- with certain socialists' blessing:
Tuesdsay, using new IRS data, the Economic Policy Institute released a study of tax cheating, or what it termed "Do-it yourself tax cuts." The Washington, D.C., group called the compliance problem "a crisis in US tax enforcement," and said closing the gap "is one of the best bargains available in economic policy."
Only a socialist "thinktank" like the EPI could call it a "crisis" when people simply want to keep the money they've earned. And in fact, the people most targetted by taxing are far from "rich," as evidenced right in the article. I wonder how many man-hours the IRS spends, trying to recover every last cent from mothers teaching a few swimming lessons, or a painter who's already taxed so much that one more room isn't worth it.

The EPI is frequently dead-wrong on policy and raw economics, but now they're being hypocritical. Obviously George Soros had $27 extra million to blow, so why aren't they pointing at him? Instead of bleeding a mother dry for teaching a few swimming lessons, how about going after the countless millions that Soros hides in off-shore accounts? Maybe, as we learned from David Hogberg's expose last February, it's because the Soros-funded Open Policy Institute has donated money to the EPI?

Update: I checked, which I've always noticed has ample criticism off offshoring jobs. However, there's only one page that criticizes offshore tax shelters, and Soros wasn't mentioned. Indeed, the tax shelters were mentioned only in passing, as part of the United States' mythical "deindustrialization" crisis.

Come to think of it, a painter is a perfect example of what Bruce Bartlett wrote this January, which I've cited before: every $1 collected in taxes discourages about 20 cents of economic production elsewhere. Like all other forms of output, each painted room has an increasing marginal cost (especially marginal opportunity cost) to the painter. Even if the extra income doesn't push the painter into a higher tax bracket, there's a certain point where it's just not worth his time to do one more room. That's one room that doesn't get painted; that's less income for the painter. That's less economic growth, because of taxes.

Liberals and socialists like to mock proponents of low taxes and limited government. Krugman & Co. deride the idea that low taxes promote economic growth, at the same time pushing huge tax rates as if they wouldn't discourage economic growth. And supply-side advocates like me are called crazy?

Morgan Stanley's drama continues

The AP reports that Morgan Stanley's top two investment bankers resigned today. This certainly doesn't reduce the pressure on CEO Philip Purcell, who's already given in as far as selling off the Discover card portion. While the board of directors continue to support Purcell, it's important to remember that it's the shareholders' opinions that count most -- and a lot of big shareholders are dissatisfied with Purcell. Not a majority, but a significant minority.

The AP story mentions HSBC as looking to acquire Morgan Stanley. When I was working at a Morgan Stanley retail branch, we heard rumors of Wachovia or Bank of America eyeing us. Who knows?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Give more back to the government?

I was reading an AP story discussing how a lot of Americans believe taxes are too complicated. I wholeheartedly agree. President Bush said in his nomination acceptance speech last year that Americans spend 6 billion hours doing tax returns, which I presume counts hours done by the entire industry we've built around that.

What struck me in the article is the complete ignorance of some people:
"There are the fortunate few who are making their living on other people's hard work, they can afford to give more back to the government," said Phil Rosenfeld, a computer consultant from Miami who leans Democratic.
Give back to the government? Since when does the government give us anything that wasn't provided for by tax dollars? Since when is it government that was responsible for every livelihood, for the very existence of our society? To this idea that we "give back" to the government, I say, "Absurd!"

This closet Marxist is another American who doesn't value that some people work better (not harder, but smarter) than others, reaping the reward of higher pay. But some people have it right:
Kim Howard-Johnson, a San Diego homemaker who leans Republican, said she would like to see the tax rates the same for all income levels.

"I think it should be changed," she said. "That's the fairest thing to do. It would provide an incentive for people to make more money."
Precisely. It's the "wealthy" by virtue of having the highest concentration of resources who drive our economy the most. It's not so much by their own spending and saving, but rather that to become wealthy, they were part of large businesses that are prime movers of our economy. And what was their incentive? Money.

Take away the incentive, and you wouldn't have companies like Wal-Mart, GE or Microsoft: top business leaders like Sam Walton, Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Paul Allen wouldn't have bothered with their business endeavors. It wouldn't have been worth their time, even if they made $100,000 a year for the rest of their lives.

But, closet Marxists like to think the top players in business don't do anything. It makes them more comfortable with, more accepting of their own lower pay and even lower ambition.

Shall Marxists quote the Bible to justify their belief that no one should have more than others? "Money is the root of all evil." That's one of the biggest misquotes of all time. To put the verse in context:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:6-11)
St. Paul was talking about the love of money, not money itself. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with money, or living a comfortable life. Paul was warning about the wanton accumulation of money and wealth for their own sake, when they become a distraction from God.

Even so, it's not my place to call upon government to save people from themselves, especially via this absurd notion of heavy progressive taxes because "the rich can afford it."

Monday, April 11, 2005

Have gun, will work!

"Palestinians Pledge to Trade Guns for Jobs"
Hundreds of Palestinian gunmen have signed pledges to halt violence in exchange for government jobs, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hopes to bring many more militants on board before he meets President Bush in May, Palestinian officials said Monday.

The new jobs-for-guns program, which offers the biggest rewards to those who've spent the longest time in Israeli prisons or on the run from the military, is meant to counter Israeli and U.S. complaints that Abbas is doing little to control the armed groups.
Extortion at its finest. And where, pray tell, will the Palestinian government get money to pay for their jobs?

Why, from more foreign aid, of course! Not only are these thugs blackmailing their own government, they're blackmailing the U.S. and other nations that give them billions. Meanwhile, Arafat's legacy continues, with these gunmen committing violence instead of taking up honest work.

"As a matter of cosmic history, it is easier to destroy than to create." - Spock, Star Trek II

It's shades of Bastiat's What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen: you must maintain soldiers' employment, because society cannot bear their unemployment. Except in this case, the Palestinian thugs imply they'll continue raping and pillaging the land if the government doesn't create jobs for them.

Just who's playing the race card?

From the AP:
Black leaders on Monday accused President Bush of "playing the race card" in his pitch to sell his proposed Social Security overhaul

NAACP leaders Julian Bond and Dennis Courtland Hayes said Bush should focus on addressing the underlying health care reasons why blacks have a shorter life expectancy instead of citing it as a reason they should support his idea of private accounts.

Under Bush's proposal, money diverted by Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts could be passed along as an inheritance. Under the current system, relatives of people who die before retiring sometimes do not receive Social Security benefits.

"Rather than playing the race card to set Americans against Americans, we urge the administration to address the long-term problems the system faces now," said Bond, the NAACP's chairman. "Recognizing the shorter life expectancy of people of color is commendable, but placing them further at risk is no solution."
This is to laugh: "playing the race card to set Americans against Americans" is exactly what the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other race-baiting demagogues do!

Just how does Bond propose President Bush improve blacks' health care? I suppose President Bush need only wave a magic wand and suddenly improve things. Backed by the power of government, no doubt all he has to do is make a proclamation, and everyone's health care will be cheap and effective. I suppose all George H.W. Bush had to do is say abracadabra, and the recession would have ended?

Or how about we apply Ockham's Razor: this is just another way the NAACP and "civil rights leaders" can feed off blacks' fears, by calling on government to pump money into social programs that just don't work.

Instead, let's focus on what government can do, which is to stop stealing blacks' retirement savings. Once government stops wasting resources on what it can't fix, perhaps society will have the means and incentive to fix things naturally.

It's common knowledge that blacks' life expectancy is lower because so many black males die young from violent crimes. There's not a thing government can do to prevent all those homicides; the change has to come from within the community. From within the heart.

The first step is something Bill Cosby has stressed for years: black communities are destroying themselves with a high illegitimacy rate. Crime statistics show that most black homicide victims were killed by fellow blacks; whether the victims were innocent bystanders or criminals, the killers were "desperate" enough to turn to crime. They're "desperate" because they commonly grew up poor, raised only by single mothers, who themselves were raised by single mothers. The families remain "poor" because the mothers had children out of wedlock, often as teenagers, which destroyed their chances of getting an education. The illegimate births are the result of a failed public school system: sex ed classes tout birth control as preventing teenage pregnancies, but they never warn about the consequences of when birth control fails. They teach junior high school girls to put condoms on cucumbers, but they never even hint that condoms aren't perfect, and that fooling around can really screw up their lives.

I'm not saying this is the case with every black family, or even single-mother black families. But saving black communities -- and Hispanic ones too -- must start with the illegitimacy rate. Everything else is applying a bandaid to a bleeding artery.